Consider this a #throwback post as this is more than 2 months due.
When my mom and I visited Hong Kong on July 2014, we took a day off to cross the Pearl River Delta and tour around the world’s new gambling capital Macau. Our main reason for visiting is not to gamble (although we also did a little of that) but to find out what history and culture this little autonomous Chinese state has.
From being a Portuguese colony to being one of the world’s richest cities, Macau is an interesting “state,” as some experts would argue. It is one of the Special Administrative Regions of China, along with Hong Kong. It has its own government, its own set of rules, and its own self-sustaining economy.
But beyond its casinos and hostels, we found that Macau has its own share of culture and history. It’s an interesting place to visit and you can do so in a day!
It’s fairly easy to get to Macau either by air or by sea. Some major airlines from across the region have direct flights to the Chinese city. Aside from this, Macau has a visa-free policy for most countries. Philippine passport holders, for example, can stay in the country for 30 days without a visa, as long as the stay is for tourism purposes only.
The other option of getting to Macau – and this is the one my mom and I used – is through Hong Kong. There are regular ferries connecting the two Chinese cities, either from the Kowloon or Hong Kong side.
From Kowloon, you can head to the China Ferry Terminal near Harbour City Mall. Aside from Macau, there are also ferries here that go to mainland China. Trips to Macau leave every 30 minutes so you don’t have to reserve tickets before your departure date.
We got tickets for a Cotai Jet ferry and paid around HKD 300 for roundtrip tickets. We passed by Hong Kong immigration and the next thing we knew, we were already seating in our turbo jet economy seats on the way to Macau.
The ferry ride was anything but comfortable. The waves were really strong during our trip and we really felt the boat crashing through the sea. Most of the passengers were vomiting so it was a good thing the staff gave out seasickness bags as soon as we stepped inside the boat.
Around an hour after our very bumpy ride and we were in Macau!
We breezed through the immigration and got out of the terminal less than 20 minutes after the boat docked. Outside the terminal were coaches from the different hotels and casinos in the city. We were approached by a Filipino working as a part time tour guide in Macau. He offered us a tour – and seeing how he seemed really nice and honest – we agreed to get his services.
His name was Delfin and throughout the tour we learned about his story and the story of overseas Filipino workers in Macau. But that’s for another article. For now, let’s go back to our Macau walkabout.
We asked Delfin to bring us to the historical and cultural parts of Macau before we head to the towering casinos and hotels. He said there was only one place in Macau for that – the very famous Plaza Senado area.
Our first stop, of course, was food! We went to Restaurante Platao, one of the popular Portuguese restaurants in the area. My mom and I were famished so we ordered a couple of dishes for sharing. The meals were very tasty, and the chef really prepared the food well. Our fault was not checking the prices before we ordered them (partly because of our hunger). We paid around PHP 5,000 (USD 110) for our food. I think it was worth it but my mom’s credit card would argue otherwise.
After filling our stomachs with traditional Portuguese food, we headed to Macau Museum to learn more about the city’s history. We paid HKD 15 each to enter and we weren’t disappointed. The museum had many artifacts dating back to the pre-colonial years of Macau. It showed the story of how Macau has transformed throughout the centuries.
On top of the building were some of the canons used to defend the city during the Portuguese era. It also offers a picturesque view of the casinos in the Macau Peninsula.
Right outside the museum was the Ruins of St Paul, an infrastructure that has become one of Macau’s most famous landmarks.
The ruins were originally part of the Cathedral of St Paul, a Catholic church built by the Jesuits from 1582 to 1602. What remains now is the southern stone facade after it was ravaged by fire in 1835. Behind the facade are remains of the original pillars of the church.
Around the Ruins of St Paul are souvenir and food shops where tourists can buy all sorts of street food and Macau keepsakes. Some clothing brands are also around the area. (Tip: Look for shops with Filipino salesboys/ salesladies. They offer grey discount if you’re Filipino!)
We went to Senado Square plaza next to have our mandatory photos taken in the said UNESCO heritage site. The buildings in the square were well-preserved while some had already been restored. The plaza, according to Delfin, is always full of people so it’s always a challenge for tourists to get the photos they want taken.
St Dominic’s Church, the oldest church in Macau, is also around the area. We didn’t go inside the church because we didn’t have time but tourists should definitely check it out, especially those who belong to the Catholic faith.
The historical part of our Macau trip was done. It was time to go to the other side of Macau, literally and figuratively.
World’s gambling capital
Tourists, even those not interested in gambling, can NOT miss at least one of the casinos when in Macau. Thanks to Delfin, my mom and I were able to visit some of the best casinos in Macau.
The first one we went to is the Wynn Hotel and Casino. This 600-room gaming hotel is styled after its Las Vegas counterpart. It has luxurious retail stores and restaurants inside. There are two main attractions in this hotel, the dancing fountains outside the hotel, which are best seen at night, and the “Dragon of Fortune” show that commences every 30 minutes.
During the “Dragon of Fortune” show, a “fortune tree” rises up from the ground. Guests throw coins for good luck before they head to the casino to gamble. It’s a very nice play of lights and music even if you’re not planning to gamble at the hotel.
Our next casino stop was the Emperor Hotel near the Senado Square area. We went here just to see the famous gold bars on the floor of the hotel’s entrance and do some window shopping for jewelry.
Another hotel we visited was the Hard Rock Hotel. When here, be sure to check out the cafe where the different paraphernalia of Hollywood and Chinese stars, including one of Michael Jackson’s glove, is displayed in a wall. This hotel is part of the City of Dreams, along with Grand Hyatt Macau and the Banyan Tree Macau.
Our last destination – and this is where we tried our hand at gambling – was the Venetian Hotel, arguably the most famous casino in the city. There are a lot of things to see inside this 3,000-room hotel. Aside from the luxurious shops and restaurants, tourists can ride the gondola which goes across some parts of the mall. We didn’t try this but I think the ride costs around HKD 300 for the entire boat.
Gambling in The Venetian is relatively easy. First timers can register for a lifetime card that can be used in the slot machines and other games for free. My mom and I are not gamblers but we had to try some games while we were at this casino. Where better to experience your first casino game other than the world’s gambling capital, right?
Believe it or not, we didn’t spend a single cent in our transportation around Macau. How did we do it? Through the hotels’ coaches!
All of the casinos have coaches and shuttles going around the city, to and from the different hotels, for customers. Given the big revenue they make out of people losing money in gambling, this is a free service provided by the casinos to tourists, whether they are guests or not.
Macau is a relatively small city. Traffic is fairly smooth when we went there and the coaches can go from one island to another in a matter of minutes.
We left The Venetian at around 7pm to make it to our 8pm ferry back to Hong Kong. We said our goodbyes to Delfin with a promise to meet him in Manila if ever he goes home. I left Cotai Strip amazed at how this small city rose to economic heights just because of gambling.
On more affluent times, maybe a few years from now, I’ll surely go back and use my Venetian membership card to gamble in Macau.